Letter to the Editor: Conversations With Charity and Civility

Dave Wheelan, founder and publisher of The Talbot and Chestertown Spy was criticized this week on social media for publishing a piece by David Montgomery, the contents of which offended many people, including us. Rather than respond to Montgomery directly through The Spy’s comments section, some contributors vilified Dave Wheelan publicly. We find such action highly questionable. Challenging Montgomery is reasonable, in fact appropriate, but castigating the publisher of a sound publication which provides a forum for news and opinions is misguided. Social media provides a welcome opportunity for all of us to express our opinions protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but it is not a substitute for good journalism. We support The Spy publications, the founder and publisher and the exercise of rights to free speech.

Charity and civility go hand in hand. In today’s caustic and fractionated environment when words are weaponized through all forms of media, it’s particularly important for us to be mindful and gracious. In the face of opinions we oppose and even find offensive or hurtful, we can still be charitable. We can also choose not to engage, but if we choose discourse over silence, let us be respectful and civil with a tone that engenders positive feelings, not one driven by fear and antagonism.

Richard Marks and Amy Haines

Game Show Politics by Al Sikes

How would you like to be a contestant in a game show? Well, all you have to do is participate in the Presidential nomination contest to choose the Democrat, presumably to run against Donald Trump, himself boosted by a game show.

As of now you are on the clock. There are twenty-four choices and several clues. Debates start soon and voting begins a few weeks into the new year.

Polls suggest Joe Biden will prevail. Many commentators point to Bernie Sander’s advantage – passionate supporters. Still others can’t believe that the end-game will be down to two late 70s white males going head-to-head.

I tend to agree with the “it’s time for a new generation” crowd, although as of this minute I do not vote in Democratic primaries. I did, however, mail a check to Seth Moulton, a U.S. Congressman, after watching an interview. And, there are several other thoughtful leaders in the wide field. Amy Klobuchar, for example, has an impressive record as a legislative leader.

Lanes have become the chosen metaphor as analysts seek to order their analysis. The Left lane is led by Bernie Sanders, who is said to be the inspiration for candidates who are not allergic to being called socialists. The Center lane is led by Joe Biden. I believe there should be a leadership lane; most decisions Presidents face do not fit neatly into ideological predispositions. I would put Moulton in the leadership lane.

For example, what happens when one of our foreign adversaries becomes aggressive, militarily? What should we do when our elections are attacked or our electrical grid? And maybe the election winner can deal with health care by eliminating the private version, but I suspect the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis will alone, change the path to a revised health care law. U.S. debt narrows policy options across the board.

In an interview, Moulton characterized Trump as a weak Commander and Chief. I agree. Moulton has standing to criticize. He earned the Bronze Star and the Commendation Medal and has been “uncomfortable calling attention to his own awards out of respect to many others who did heroic things and received no awards at all.”

He also recommended a program that ties national service and financial support for college or vocational education. A 21st Century GI bill, if you will. Good idea.

My assessment of Trump as Commander and Chief is somewhat different from Moulton; Moulton stressed his lack of service. My concern: his vanity. Global leadership must, in most cases, leave room for the adversary to save face at home. Chairman Xi, to resolve trade disputes with Trump, has to lose face. Trump scolds China and then pronounces that he will win the trade dispute and, of course, that it will be the greatest win ever.

The truth is that President Trump is weak. He is a lame duck; voting begins ten months from now. His Party lost the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections. And the poll numbers, according to Fox News, has him trailing in a matchup with Joe Biden by 12 points. And beyond that, he can only proceed by Executive Order on any policy initiative because the Congress is certainly not going to give him a win.

Now let me return briefly to the game board and leadership. Most of the candidates have been in Washington for years. Their leadership training was there. As my Washington service stretched on to seven years I became convinced that the magnetic field is created by interests that target weakness—hyper-partisanship, fawning lobbyists, and the non-stop lure of ambition. Spending time in Washington is helpful, but spending too much time is debilitating—its influence subordinates knowledge, instinct and integrity.

Seth Moulton has only been in the race for four weeks and needs to receive donations from 65,000 persons to be included in the debates; that is why I sent him a donation.
America needs a leader who can cross all of the lines that civil disharmony has created. And one of the most important and currently impregnable lines is in the Congress. Moulton was recognized to be “the most bipartisan member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New England.”

I have highlighted Seth Moulton, because of debate qualifications. But, I can’t pass up a quote from Walter Mondale about Amy Klobuchar. He quipped that “She has done better in that miserable Senate than most people there.” She also deserves to be in the leadership lane.

The game’s clock is not yet in countdown mode, but early evidence of success is essential. So to my Democrat friends who will argue I have no standing and to my Republican ones who will regard me as treasonous, I simply say, this is our country not a game show.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 


Savor the Missteps by Angela Rieck

Wedding season is approaching. That event where brides, bridegrooms and their parents sample a wide array of foods, listen to countless bands and DJs, study color palettes, learn about flowers, select the best venue, choose the ideal officiant, and of course, find the perfect wedding gown. All in their quest for perfection to memorialize a day that will mark the beginning of a new life, a new course and a special bond.

The quest for perfection is ironic, because the most memorable moments are the ones that aren’t planned.

I am a member of a large family, so we have had our share of weddings and despite endless preparation, substantial funds, our most memorable moments are the ones that we didn’t expect.

My brother married on the coldest Memorial Day. His beautiful bride in her sleeveless dress braved the weather, but the rest of us abandoned our summer attire quickly after the ceremony, opting for sweatshirts, sweaters or even jackets in our suitcases for warmth. Within an hour, most of us had changed to winter wear. It poured and poured and poured at my sister’s outdoor wedding and reception. The bridal party took advantage of a brief parting of the clouds to have the ceremony and run back. Rain was so relentless that an eccentric aunt tied garbage bags to her feet in an effort to stay dry.

My nieces and nephews (all outdoor weddings) have found a way to marry on days that were 90+ degrees with 90% humidity. It didn’t matter if they were in June, July, August or September. The guests congregated around the fans. At one wedding, the bridesmaids finally jumped in the pool in their dresses.

My closest friend watched the country club at her reception wheel out the wrong wedding cake. They had served her very expensive cake at another wedding, she was left with a cheap “store-bought” wedding cake.

My wedding had some mishaps, but it is most known as the wedding with the world’s worst wedding toast. My nervous brother-in-law to be repeatedly used the name of my husband’s first wife in toasting us. You could hear the gasping sounds from the guests. He was and remains mortified, but I thought it was amusing.

I am happy to report that all of us who participated in these weddings have been happily married (or widowed). When we talk about our weddings, we don’t talk about the perfect flowers, spectacular food or stunning wedding gowns, we laugh at the missteps.

So my advice to all of you wedding planners out there is to strive for perfection…but hope for a mishap.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

Focus On Talbot: Cottages by Dan Watson

A new item popped up recently on the Council’s list of pending legislation: Bill 1412 “To Revise Cottage Industry Truck Weight Limits on Certain Roadways.”

Most people in the County have no idea what “Cottage Industry” really means—but it’s not what most would think. So a few days ago I began to write a piece, not with the purpose of knocking the new legislation per se or raising a big alarm, but hoping to clarify what this term “Cottage Industry” means in our zoning code. People should understand it, because it can have a big impact in certain situations and it could easily become a portal to abuse in the future.

But I had to trash that first draft and start over for two reasons: (a) everything I wrote initially sounded alarmist, as if I was trying to send a message in code, and (b) as I reviewed Chapter 190 regarding “Cottage Industry,” I was struck by just how carefully that section has been crafted, with quite reasonable constrains and limitations, at least in its current form.

Notwithstanding the name, Cottage Industry use does not identify your Aunt Wilma’s quilting operation or Uncle Mike’s home-based bookkeeping business. (Those are “Home Occupations.”) The Cottage Industry use is actually intended to accommodate the small, independent owner/operator of a serious business—almost always a contracting business–who works our of his own home.

These are the community’s independent landscapers, plumbers, electricians, and even some boat repair guys. (Septic haulers are also included…though the proprietor would still have to live on site.) Accommodation this kind of use is not just appropriate but essential in a place like Talbot County, where lots of small contractors and small businesses have always been home-based.

Yet as the code expressly states, a Cottage Industry use “has the potential for greater impacts on nearby properties compared to a Home Occupation.” For example, big trucks.

Bill 1412 simply says that if a business is a “Cottage Industry” and faces onto a “State arterial or collector roadway” (you know what that is, right?), it can generate up to 10 visits per day to the property from trucks of any size—any size. (Otherwise, the limitation is 16,000 lbs. GVW, and fewer trips.)

The truck issue aside, if you go to Section 33.5(B) of Chapter 190 you can peruse a long list of limitations and constraints on properties where Cottage Industry uses are permitted. To me the restrictions seem reasonable and comprehensive. No doubt there can be property specific conflicts, but still….

In any event, over the long haul citizens should know what “Cottage Industry” really means, and keep an eye on regulatory changes that could slip by and adversely affect the broader community (since those uses are permitted in many zones throughout the County). In fact, I think it would be wise to change the name of that use in our zoning code to something like “Home Based Contractor Business Operation,” just so no one gets misled. After all, “cottages” have those white picket fences, and roses.

Dan Watson is the former chair of Bipartisan Coalition For New Council Leadership and has lived in Talbot County for the last twenty-five years. 

Letter to the Spy Publisher: A Response from David Montgomery

Dear David,

I had no idea that you would have such an emotional reaction to my POV on the Colorado shootings, and had I known I would without hesitation have chosen a different topic. But having written it without such knowledge, I stand behind what I wrote, and I have added links to studies supporting my views. Perhaps your feelings have prevented you from reading what I actually wrote, and led you to paraphrase my article in a misleading way. You claim I stated “that one of the murderers, who had been questioning his gender identity at the time of the crime, was the result of our society ‘brainwashing teens into gender dysphoria.’” Only the last 5 words are mine.

If you are implying that I think all teens confused about their gender are potential mass murderers, I am offended more by your lack of respect for my intelligence than anything else. Having expressed my outrage more than once at suggestions that all “white nationalists” are mass murderers, I am not likely to make the same mistake in causality myself.

Do I think that the massive propaganda machine legitimizing the desire to change sex is harmful, and that it added to the impulses that made this boy and girl into killers? Indeed, I do. Capable researchers have published studies that reveal a link between peer and social media pressure and gender dysphoria. That is a matter of fact to be discussed not suppressed.

You clearly disagree with me that great harm is done by teaching that changing one’s physical sex is healthy and therapeutic. That is no reason to prevent me from offering my opinion, which has its own scientific support, any more than you would prevent me from stating my opinion that the scientific basis for claims of imminent climate catastrophe is weak.

Moreover, I never said or thought that the shooters were themselves evil, for their gender confusion or for their murderous intentions. That is not for me to judge.

What I actually wrote is: “The clear evil is in the politicians, “educators,” fashionable psychologists and institutions that are brainwashing teens into gender dysphoria. Teenagers, confused by hormones, immaturity and no doubt family and social pain, are being told that their all too common emotional distress comes from being the wrong sex and that they can solve their problems by changing their dress, bathroom access or biology. It doesn’t work, and creates the even worse problems seen in this event.” By deleting my column, you made it impossible for readers to judge my meaning for themselves.

What I identified as evil are the institutions telling teens that their wishes to have been born with a different biology are healthy and need to be fulfilled. I am convinced that adding the suggestion that “you are the wrong sex” to the sometimes overwhelming stress of puberty and the mismatched timing of hormonal and intellectual development can make life more than a teen can handle. Some choose suicide, many suffer impaired mental health, and in this case two chose mass murder. Perhaps if I had written that rather than the shorter “creates the even worse problems seen in this event” you would have understood me better.

What I find most strange is where you draw the line on what is permissible speech. I’m sorry, this is not even close to “shouting fire in a crowded theater.” In Canada or the Netherlands, I realize, I could be put in jail for “hate speech” for writing this column. That is one reason why I am so thankful to live in the USA.

You say that my words were doing harm. In my opinion, being silent on the tragic consequences of driving our youth into confusion about gender also does immense harm. The question is not what is comfortable but what is true. Though truth may be one, agreement on what is true only comes from listening to statements that cause discomfort. Your and some readers’ attacks on me certainly hurt my feelings, but the reassurance of others that my column was reasonable comforted me.

Your standard seems to be the same “safe space” guarantee that has become notorious on campuses. Perhaps you should add a “trigger warning” to my Points of View. I have become accustomed to prejudice based on my race, gender and age, to insults directed at my religion, and to lies about what I have said and done. I did not and do not expect protection from any of this. Why do we accept the idea that some are so privileged that they should hear nothing but praise?

I am also distressed and puzzled, not for myself but for the readers of the Spy, by your statements about what the Spy supports. Do you mean to say that after suggesting I write about candidate Buttigieg’s appeal to Christianity to support his homosexual lifestyle, you would censor me if I stated my belief that marriage is an institution (or sacrament) ordained by God to unite a man and a woman for life? That is what is said in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and was the universal teaching of Christian churches for almost two thousand years, but it is also termed hate speech in many venues. You should clarify where censorship starts in the Spy.

Unless you do intend to silence all views but your own on these issues and to leave standing the regrettable charge that I am a purveyor of hate speech, I hope you will publish this response to your attacks on me in full.


David Montgomery

Out and About (Sort of): Bedside Manner 2.0 by Howard Freedlander

As a columnist, sitting on a pedestal weekly spewing forth brilliant opinions and insights, I realize that sometimes that this writer gets a chance to say “I told you so.” Of course, no one likes a know-it-all. I know I don’t.

So, after the publication two weeks ago of my column citing the efficacy of an empathetic bedside manner and the all too frequent lack of compassion in the medical profession, a friend politely told me that my perspective was mistaken. He said that family members and friends were doctors, and empathy was part of their toolkit. Further, his last words, again spoken in a friendly manner, empathized with my column-producing experiences.

Of course, I tried to write a balanced piece that stated I had had mostly good experiences. Others who approached me related stories of excellent treatment and soulless personal interaction.

As I wrote, some people care little whether a doctor has a pleasing demeanor—only the results matter. I wonder if that’s absolutely true. We all like to be treated with respect. Caring communication enhances treatment and recovery.

As luck would have it, two doctors at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, NJ., one the chief of medicine at Cooper University Health Care (CUHC) and the other a practitioner of emergency medicine and co-president of CUHC, co-authored a Washington Post article (“For patients, a caregiver’s compassion is essential,” May 13, 2019).

Doctors Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli, wrote: “Research shows that there has been an erosion of the relationship between those who provide health care and the patients they treat, and specifically an erosion of compassion. Nearly half of Americans believe the U.S. health-care system and health-care providers are not compassionate, one survey found. Numerous studies have reported that physicians miss the majority of opportunities to respond with compassion.

“Research on the burnout epidemic in health care finds that 35 percent of physicians are so burned out that they have an inability to make a personal connection with patients. This can result in callous or uncaring behavior.”

The purpose of the two-year study was to discern whether compassion (an emotional reaction to an ailment encompassing a desire to help and leading to action) and empathy (the initial thrust to feel and understand a person’s emotions) have scientific and measurable outcomes.

The doctors found “undeniable signals” in their data-gathering that “compassionate care is associated with vast benefits for patients across a wide variety of physical conditions, such as chronic back pain, diabetes and even recovery from the common cold.”

To this increasingly involved pawn in the medical system, the findings make common sense.

A patient’s mental and emotional approach to treatment and adherence to “prescribed medicine” is tied directly to a strong dosage of compassion. A positive attitude—as opposed to anxiety and depression—enables a patient to focus on physical recovery free of psychological duress.

Just last week, my wife and I met with a doctor who seemed to have internalized the value of empathy and compassion. After we explained the impact of my medical condition (I promise I will discuss it in greater detail in a future column) on our lives, she said she could understand our emotional pain. I felt relieved.

The doctor’s human reaction took just seconds. Its value was incalculable. As Trzeciak and Mazzarelli discovered in their research, a sincere expression of compression involves very few words.

Incidentally, the study’s authors found evidence that “compassionate care can be a fulfilling experience for health-care providers that helps build resilience to burnout. In other words, compassion is good for both the giver and the receiver.”

Compassion is not just a creation of social science. Medical data has tied it to the science, not just the art of medicine. It has measurable effects.

And it costs nothing.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Indigenous Indignities by Jamie Kirkpatrick

A couple weeks ago, I watched a segment on 60 Minutes about an Inuit throat singer. Before that, I had never heard of Inuit throat singing, and to be honest, I’m not about to download some Inuit throat singing and add it to my favorite playlist. But that’s not the point. Embedded in the 60 Minutes story was the sad saga of Inuit mistreatment by the Canadian government: the forced assimilation and marginalization of a distinct native culture into a non-native, white society. It sounded almost as heinous as the mistreatment of Native Americans by our own government.

Indigenous indignities are, sad to say, common phenomena. The histories of Mexico, Central America, and South America are rife with indigenous indignities. The African slave trade is a horrific chapter in the still unfolding saga of the human and economic exploitation of the New World. Immigrant Australians have pushed the native Aboriginal culture of their island continent almost to the point of extinction. Canadians, whom I have always thought to be fair, inclusive, and open-minded people, have not been so fair, inclusive, and open-minded when it comes to their own Inuit population. And here in the United States, the legacies of Thomas Jefferson’s Manifest Destiny, Andrew Jackson’s Trail of Tears, the Bosque Redondo (the federal internment facility for Navajos and Mescalero Apaches), and the forced relocation of countless other Native Americans have left not just a scar but an open wound on our own landscape.

Tell me: why is it that a predominantly white culture feels it has the right to exert dominance over another indigenous, non-white culture? Is it lust for territory? Natural resources? Wealth? Or is it an unquenchable feeling of cultural or religious superiority—what the French colonizers of West and North Africa called their “civilizing mission” or what Rudyard Kipling labeled the “white man’s burden?” Moreover, isn’t it ironic that Christian missionaries were often the agents—unwitting or otherwise—of cultural assimilation and even annihilation, but then those missionaries were, more often than not, simply using their particular order’s interpretation of a divine plan to justify a more demonic one.

The perpetrators of past indigenous indignities are certainly the revered ancestors of today’s white supremacists.These people should have become extinct along with the dinosaurs, but somehow their misguided notion of superiority seems to have been reborn and is making a new and even more hateful resurgence these days. Whether driven by political tolerance from on high or by fear of economic or social displacement below, the current crop of white supremacy practitioners have all-too-boldly reclaimed space in our national discourse. Their claptrap should have been silenced at the first syllable, but when that didn’t happen, they grew emboldened and shouted louder. Now the genie is out of the bottle. It’s hard to imagine anything remotely resembling a silver lining to this phenomenon unless it’s now that white supremacy is out in the open, it should be easier to wipe out once and for all. How I wish!

The roots of white supremacy run deep; the soil of indigenous indignities has historically been all too fertile. Empires have been built upon it. The irony, of course, is that the morally erosive influence of these indignities makes for a house, a nation, or even an empire built on shifting sand. If we are to withstand the storms that are sure to come, we have to shore up our foundation and exterminate all notions of white supremacy.

Not too long ago, I spent a week in the Navajo nation writing a profile of a doctor friend of mine who works the night shift at the Fort Defiance Indian Hospital near Window Rock, Arizona. My friend leads an upside-down existence, sleeping by day, treating patients by night. A traditionally trained and highly skilled emergency room physician, he is known locally as “Big Daddy Medicine Man.” Every night, he sees a little of everything—diseases and injuries that seem out of place in the 21st Century. He has also bumped into traditional Navajo healing rituals— sand paintings and sings that address the emotional and spiritual roots of sickness and disease. He has learned an important lesson. “Who knows what really works,” he told me with a shrug one dawn, “what really heals?”

From all the indigenous indignities that have been inflicted on one culture by another, I hope we all might learn a similar lesson. We need all the healing we can get.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

Back Talk by George Merrill

I can’t walk the same distances I once did. Now I take a more leisurely pace and cover less turf. When I was younger I may have covered more territory, but I saw less of it. As my perimeters shrink, my vision broadens.

This is about how my unruly back reconnected me to neighbors, some I’d met, two for the first time.

Again, as it has over the years, my perverse back is dictating the terms of my life. Of the manifold gifts with which my creator has blessed me, a strong back is not one. I can only assume I was issued a leftover, a rebuilt, but not the custom fitted kind that do well and accommodate an individual’s peculiarities. Mine overreacts. It talks back.

I really shouldn’t complain. Generally, it has worked for and with me. At times, my back has even showed a willingness to rejuvenate itself, putting me back on my feet walking with my customarily brisk pace. Not recently, however.

As a result, my awareness has shifted. Getting there (wherever ‘there’ might be) is not as big a deal as it once was. It’s what I discover along the way that’s become the big deal.

Right now, my walking consists of several trips a day from my studio up the driveway to the mailbox and back. A ten-minute walk. Once I leave the studio, I am surrounded by trees. I see some of them from the studio windows and a host more leaving the studio and going to the mailbox. Since it’s no big thing about my destination – a regular mailbox – it’s what happens on the way that’s been energizing. Noticing the trees for one thing.

Of course, living here thirty years I have seen the trees before, but in not the same way. On one trip to the mail box, I hugged a large conifer tree. I’d never hugged a tree. What I had not noticed before was how large the boles of most of the conifers were. The trees must have been there fifty or sixty years. Performing the hug, I couldn’t get my fingers to touch when wrapping my arms around the trunk.

All those years I’d driven down the driveway past the pines, I’d never noticed how, when viewed close up, the bark looks like an alligator’s hide. The bark has the appearance of an assemblage of wood chips, secured to the tree like miniature wooden shingles. Ivy makes its way up some trees, weaving its vines under the wood chips, making it impossible to pull the ivy loose.

The rough tree bark does not make a hug feel like the warm-fuzzy I might wish. I felt self-conscious, too, and looked around to see if anyone was watching. Just squirrels, some sweet gum trees, two maples and more conifers.

When I’m walking unhurriedly, I like to stop and pan the area like a cinematographer seeking the broadest view of the landscape. It also rests my back.

That’s when I saw a large clod of dirt moving across the path directly in front of me. It alarmed me at first. It was about half again as big as my open hand and its movement was slow and unsteady. Moving closer I could see that the lump of dirt was riding on the shell of a huge turtle that I assumed to be a snapping turtle. My suspicions proved correct. I tried moving him to the side of the road where he would be out of harm’s way. He was not grateful at all. As I nudged him with my foot over to the roadside, his neck shot out. Fortunately, he went for my foot which was well to his stern and out of reach even as he moved sideways to get at it. He hissed menacingly at me. Don’t tread on me was written all over him.

I found a stick and tried nudging him to the roadside. He made a grab for the stick, momentarily bit down on it with a crunch, growling and hissing and, I’m sure, if that stick had been my toe he would have had it for breakfast. I retrieved the stick, kept poking at him until he fell into the narrow culvert, shell side up. He was home free.

Despite his thankless rebuffs, I was committed to his safety. I made it to the mailbox feeling like the good Samaritan despite no show of appreciation from the turtle. Fortunately, goodness has its own rewards.

I decided to go left on the intersecting road and walk a little further to my neighbor’s mailbox. Along the road between mailboxes is a gully. It was filled with water from the rains.

As I walked along I’d hear a ‘squeak’, and then a ‘plop’ as a basking frog, alarmed by my presence, made for the water. Walking further, the same: a squeak’, a couple of ‘croaks’ and ‘plops,’ frog after frog abandoned his day in the sun to take refuge in the water. I had no idea my presence could be so intrusive. After all, I didn’t even know they were there much less see them and still they were offended at my simply walking the road and minding my own business. I was beginning to feel like a pariah.

My day was redeemed when, returning to my own mailbox, I saw at the entrance to the driveway a good-sized butterfly. She was not gloriously adorned like a monarch; in fact, she was plain with her blue-black wings that had a small smidgen of white at the base of each. She was standing on the ground, her wings fluttering occasionally, as if to maintain her balance. She rocked slightly forward and then backward, as though she were trying to gain a footing to take off. I stopped close by, my foot inches from her, fully prepared for another rejection. She took wing and flew in zig zag circles, but, to my surprise and delight, quickly returned to exactly from where she’d taken flight; near my left foot. She obviously did not think I was a danger or some kind of creepy man to hiss at or flee from; for that moment, I was just a neighbor out there standing by my mailbox.

As a part of my healing I’ve found checking in with the neighbors now and then is important. It’s easy to forget they are so close and except for one turtle with an attitude, most are a comfort. In that brief walk, my world grew slightly bigger.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

The Belt by Angela Rieck

I have fostered and rehabilitated many dogs over the years and I have learned a lot of tricks. One of them is a belly band for incontinent or un-housetrained male dogs. A belly band is a strip of cloth about 5” longer than the circumference of the dog’s belly. I sew Velcro strips at each end, place a urinary incontinence pad inside, wrap it around his private parts and voila! Any undesired urination goes into the pad. (Just remember to take it off when he goes outside!) When one of my elderly male dogs lost his flawless housebreaking, a belly band was a small price to pay to have one more happy year with him.

In an effort to move forward with my life, I decided to date. Since I had been out of the market for over 26 years, I was inexperienced, ineffective and confused. The numbers were against me as well. While over 60% of widowers are in a serious relationship within 2 years, only 19% of widows are. Some of it has to do with the numbers. Of the estimated 600,000 people who are widowed each year, 2/3 of them are women. There are a lot of great widows out there and my tepid desire to dating added to the challenges.

But, to my surprise, one day I saw a man out of the corner of my eye notice me at Target. I observed him follow me while I went shopping, but when I turned around to smile at him, he was gone. At the checkout stand and I saw him quickly maneuver to get behind me. I tried to muster my best unawkward smile and he returned it. He started to take the items out of his cart and then he saw it. I had come to the Target to buy urinary incontinence pads for my dog. The shrink wrapped bright green package was jostling all alone on the conveyor belt.
The man’s face instantly reflected a look of panic, trying to decide whether to go to another counter or ignore me. I had one moment to say something, but somehow, “they are for my dog” seemed akin to the “dog ate my homework.” He mumbled something, gathered his things and made a mad dash to the next aisle.

The bright green shrink-wrapped package continued its slow, bumbling journey down that belt. The check-out person waved it in the air and asked if I wanted a bag. I said no.
Potential date averted.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

Focus On Talbot: Doing Good In Talbot County by Dan Watson

For a County our size, Talbot has a huge number of “do-good” organizations of every description, and they garner extraordinary support. People engage. People give. Talbot rocks. The Talbot Spy and the Star Democrat are replete with articles of men in high heels running races, ballrooms full of Christmas trees, paddlers in cardboard boats. Sometimes it feels the paper would have nothing else to print but for accounts of our community organizations and their successes.

Everyone has their own list that pops to mind—Talbot Hospice, Casa, Pickering Creek, Empty Bowls, 4H Club, Boy Scouts, For All Seasons, and on and on. Garden clubs. Social services. The YMCA. Shore Rivers. The Volunteer Firemen. The Maritime Museum. Talbot Goes Purple. It’s hard to stop.

It seems much more intense than other communities. Why is that? I think it’s due to the happy confluence of two different sources of generosity, two layers of empathy.

At the base, like any solid American community, Talbot’s lifelong residents generously support the “normal” array of Norman Rockwell community organizations. These are especially the youth groups like boy scouts and little leagues and high school sports teams. Also church groups, and the fireworks, and so many others. Collective efforts often result in the “big checks” we see in the paper—the 3’x5’ cardboard ones, with smiling donors and happy recipients. This is the sound foundation of community non-profit involvement, and if that was as far as it went Talbot would still be proud.

But when it comes to “doing good,” Talbot thinks very big, and reaches very wide…far beyond normal for a place of only 16,500 households. What other community our size sports a first class art museum, an always-busy regional art center, a world-class maritime museum? Who runs anything like the Waterfowl Festival for 48 years and counting? What County our size spawns a homegrown mentor program that’s not just growing, but thriving? And hosts a Conservation Center housing a regional land conservancy, a regional waterkeeper program, and other environmental efforts. Multiple choral groups. And all growing and prospering simultaneously!

It does not take a rocket scientist to explain this added level of vibrancy. We have many retirees living here. It’s an older population, and many have moved in from elsewhere, having been attracted by the County’s unique character (ironically, the plethora of great community organizations being one of those attractions).

According to the Census Reporter, the median age in Talbot County is 49.7 years, compared to 37.8 years nationwide! Twenty-seven percent of Talbot County is over 65, compared to 15% nationally. So relatively speaking, Talbot Countians are older (a lot!).

Someone from Mars might say this is trouble—all those elderly folks living on social security checks burdening the local government with needed services. Well, obviously the opposite is true. The extraordinary, over-the-top quantity and quality of Talbot’s community organizations is largely because of the disproportionate number of older folks, and that these “come-heres” affirmatively picked this particular place above all others.

The unique charms of Talbot County are what attract retirees—especially the “young active retirees” not heading to assisted living–from DC and Philadelphia and other prosperous centers. These are very often very successful people, wealthy people, who can literally move wherever in the world they wish—and they wish to move here. Been doing it for decades. In fact, many native-born seem not to recognize that a good portion of the “come-heres” have been neighbors now for a couple of decades, sometimes more.

(Some argue that retirees come here just because of the low property tax rate, but I don’t believe that for a minute. Nice? Sure…but if Dorchester’s were 50% lower still, do you think folks would start moving from DC to Crapo and Vienna? Low taxes do not explain the special attraction of Talbot County.)

So the resources and interests of this retiree “come-here” contingent is another layer piled on top of the generosity of the locally rooted community. Many of the big checks (the other kind) are written by these folks, to the collective benefit of everyone in Talbot, rich and poor, wherever born.

And by no means is it just the money. In his recent book, The Second Mountain, David Brooks writes about the change of focus many experience at a certain time of life—no longer so self-centered on career and personal success, but much more “other directed.” That “certain time of life” often corresponds to retirement, and “the move.” So, often retirees arriving on Talbot’s shores deliver twofold benefits: not just passive donors with the wherewithal and interest to contribute, but also people ready to roll up sleeves and volunteer, go to work on something good and useful to the community. With enthusiasm.

Is it any wonder that Talbot’s community organizations are so varied and successful? Native born and come-heres, working together, have quite a good thing going, and we’re all richer for it.

Dan Watson is the former chair of Bipartisan Coalition For New Council Leadership and has lived in Talbot County for the last twenty-five years. 

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